With Amy McElroy
Article originally printed in The Aiken Horse
Amy McElroy is a USEF R judge, qualified to officiate at any USEF recognized show at all national dressage levels. She rides, trains and teaches at Fairlane Farm in Aiken and judges about a dozen dressage shows and events each year. In her popular Ask the Judge column, she answers readers' questions about dressage.
I have been competing with my horse in combined driving at the Training level. My horse and I really enjoy the dressage phase, so I would also like to try competing him in ridden dressage at a few local shows this winter. I wonder if you might explain some of the differences I might expect between ridden and driven dressage?
-Ride and Drive
Dear Ride and Drive,
I think it’s wonderful that you ride your horse as well as drive him. When you get to a ridden dressage competition, you will find that, although the basics of dressage remain the same, there are many differences between ridden and driven dressage, from the equipment to the movements, and to the way the points count.
In both ridden and driven dressage, the judge is looking for horses to move freely forward in a clear and steady rhythm while accepting the bit. The judges will be assessing the quality of the gaits, as well as the horse’s impulsion and submission. The ridden tests that are most similar to the Training level in driven dressage are the Introductory Tests A and B, which, like Training level in driving, do not call for the canter. If you want to do a ridden Training level test, you should be prepared for movements at the canter. However, while driven dressage often includes a rein back in Training level, ridden dressage never does. This movement is not introduced until Second level.
There are many similar movements in the ridden and driven Training Level test. These include:
- An entry down the center line, with halt and salute at X.
- Standard circles in both directions: 40 meters for driven dressage and 20 meters for ridden dressage
- Two styles of walk: both have the free walk; the driven tests also require a working walk, while ridden tests require a medium walk.
There are some general differences between the ridden and driven sports (besides the obvious!) The first thing you will notice is that standard arena sizes are different. In driven dressage, the arena for Training Level is 40 meters by 80 meters. In ridden dressage the standard arena is 20 by 60 meters, but the rules permit the use of an arena that is 20 by 40. If you are accustomed to the larger arena used for driving, you might find that the movements and transitions in ridden dressage come up quicker than you might expect.
The second thing you will notice is that, while both sports require a salute, it is quite different. In driven dressage, you salute by raising your whip and bowing your head. In ridden dressage, you put the reins in one hand, drop your other hand down and bow your head. In driven dressage, the voice is an aid that is allowed and considered to be useful. In ridden dressage, “use of voice” which includes any sounds (words, clucking, chirping) is not allowed, and if the judge hears you using your voice you will receive a deduction of at least two points per movement. In driven dressage, your test must be done by memory. In ridden dressage, it is permissible to have a caller who calls out the movements to you as you perform. In driven dressage, the horse may wear earplugs if noise bothers him. In ridden dressage, earplugs are prohibited and cause for elimination. In driven dressage, when your test is complete, you leave the arena at a working trot. In ridden dressage, you must leave the arena at the walk on a long rein.
The way you plan your test is also different. In driven dressage, the transitions should be executed when the horse’s nose arrives at the letter. In ridden dressage, an accurate transition takes place when the rider’s body passes over the letter (with the exception of movements on the diagonal, in which case the transition should occur when the rider is facing the letter.)
There are also some differences in judging. In driven dressage, (at least in recognized shows) there are two judges at the Training level. In ridden dressage, there is usually only one judge who sits at C, although there may be more judges. In driven dressage, there is a 5-point deduction for the first error and a 10-point deduction for the second error. In ridden dressage, the first error is a 2-point deduction, a second error is a 4 point deduction. In both disciplines, the third error is cause for elimination. Disobediences are also judged differently in the two sports. In driven dressage, the first disobedience is a 5-point deduction, the second is a 10-point deduction, and the third is elimination. In ridden dressage, disobediences will lower your score in that movement but the rules do not stipulate any specific deductions. However, if any disobedience occurs for more that 20 seconds, this is an automatic elimination. The judge may also eliminate the ride if he or she feels that it is dangerous.
In driven dressage, the collective marks are: gaits, impulsion, submission, driver, and presentation. In ridden dressage, the collectives are gaits, impulsion, submission, position and seat, the rider’s correct and effective use of aids, and harmony between the rider and the horse.
If you are going to compete in ridden dressage at the Training level, you will obviously need different equipment than you need for driving. You must ride in an English type saddle with stirrups and a snaffle bit with a smooth surface. You also need to be wearing an approved ASTM helmet whenever you are mounted on the show grounds. You may carry a whip, not exceeding 47.2 inches long, including the lash. The use of any improper equipment may be cause for elimination, so please check the USEF rulebook under the dressage section (DR) to make sure that all your bits, bridles and accouterments are legal to use in a test. If you don’t have a hard copy, this rulebook can be found online in the USEF website. (www.usef.org)
I hope you enjoy competing astride your horse as well as behind him. I am sure adding riding to your repertoire will be a benefit to your horse’s harmony and balance, and will bring you an even greater understanding and appreciation of the principles of dressage.
This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.